Tiffany & Company ( American, 1837 )
Robert Francis Hunter
By the 1880s, Tiffany's expertise in creating presentation objects was legendary; the firm had produced acclaimed pieces for many of the world's most famous individuals. Both the presenter and the recipient of this humidor were well known in the 19th century. August Belmont (1853-1924), who commissioned the piece, was a German immigrant who made his fortune in New York City representing the financial interests of Europe's Rothschild family; Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), who received the box upon the occasion of his graduation from Cambridge in 1889, was the young heir of one of England's greatest fortunes.
Obviously, Belmont knew Rothschild well because the humidor's decoration reflects the young man's interest in sport and nature. The cast buffalo atop the composition would have been intriguing because the American bison had reached the verge of extinction in the late 1880s. Similarly, New York artist Robert Hunter's scenes of American sports would have appealed to Rothschild. Etched on the box's exterior are images of the outdoor pursuits of lacrosse, tobogganing, baseball, bronco-busting, duck hunting, trotting-horse racing, ice-boat racing, and buffalo hunting. Hunter's original drawings (see 1993.69.3.FA) for these scenes survive with the box, as does its original traveling case (see 1993.69.2.A-C.FA) of California laurel wood and leather.
Because of its exceptional quality and size, this humidor was expensive to make. Tiffany & Co. spent $511 to compete the commission. This figure suggests that the retail cost to Belmont was over $1,000 a huge sum in 1889.
Charles Venable, "Humidor," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 239.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Read more about Nineteenth-Century American Silver.